Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

The Drug Education Forum’s response to the Young People and Alcohol Guidance consultation

The Forum has submitted the following response to the current consultation on young people and alcohol, which takes in the Chief Medical Officers draft guidance and DCSF draft messages to parents and young people.

Do you understand the 5 key points from the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Guidance?

The Drug Education Forum is supportive of the messages that the CMO has produced. We know that many young people and parents want to have clear guidance about the impact of using alcohol for young people.

We strongly support the view that an alcohol free childhood is the healthiest option for children, but recognise that this won’t always be the case. We also know that young people and their parents who choose not to follow this advice will use alcohol in many different ways – from moderate use on special occasions through to regular heavy episodic drinking. Therefore this guidance has to address a very wide audience.

The Forum understands the aspiration of ensuring that where young people are drinking there are parents or carers supervising. We believe that parents and carers will need to be able to access practical advice to help them achieve this aspiration, and believe that the fact sheets produced by the Australian Drug Foundation to help young people and parents negotiate teenage parties may provide a helpful template (see here). We would also want the CMO’s guidance to recognise that where there are cultural or religious taboos around the use of alcohol this creates additional tensions between parents and those children who do use alcohol.

While supporting the view that young people should be made aware of the hazards of drinking we know that how young people are engaged in that discussion and the support they receive beyond educational settings can be crucial in supporting those messages. Currently there is very little known about how post 16 education institutions work to deliver drug and alcohol prevention initiatives (see here). We think that further work needs to be done regarding recommendation 22 from the ACMD’s Pathways to Problems report (see here) which says that:

All universities, colleges of further education and other major training institutions should take more responsibility for encouraging and enabling their students or trainees to minimise the hazardous use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs

We know that young people who use alcohol heavily will find the message that they shouldn’t drink more often than one day a week and at below the recommended adult daily limit a difficult one to accept. Care will be needed to ensure that the public messages help young people and their parents to achieve this aspiration,

The Forum strongly supports the call to help parents understand the important role they have in educating their children about alcohol, and how to respond when children misuse alcohol. We believe that there is more work to be done to ensure that schools and other educational settings engage parents in the alcohol education and prevention work that they undertake.

The Forum believes that early intervention and support for young people and their parents in response for alcohol needs to be available. Recent evidence suggests that where that support involves the whole family it can be very effective.

Do you think the CMO Guidance gives you enough information to enable you to make informed decisions?

The Drug Education Forum does not think that the guidance should be made firmer than it is at present. Our understanding of the evidence for effective communication of health messages (see here) is that they should impact on knowledge; the recipients’ understanding of social norms; and gives them the capacity to change their behaviour. As the author of the Kings Fund report says:

People need more than knowledge to be healthy, they need the skills to change; information campaigns must be coupled with other services and interventions if they are to bring about large changes in often complex and habitual lifestyle behaviours.

Are the evidence messages clear and effective?

The Drug Education Forum believes that the messages are clear and could form part of an effective campaign to raise parents and young people’s awareness of the harms that alcohol can cause.


From our perspective the critical message here is that parents can make a difference. As with our previous answer we urge that the messages should be set in a context of building knowledge, engaging with social norms and providing concrete examples and strategies that help the recipients to change their behaviour.


We know from the DCSF’s own research that:

There are many gaps in the anti-drinking argument. Drinkers exploit them all… Personal defence against the problem was easy and natural for respondents, since they found justification and explanation for their own drinking behaviours and attitudes everywhere.

Our understanding is that positive messages which reflect social norms have been shown to be effective in relation to the use of alcohol (see here and here).

Are these advice messages useful and do they make sense?


Our view is that the critical message for parents is that they can make a difference to their children’s use of alcohol by talking to them about it on a regular basis and in negotiating boundaries.

We think it will be helpful to parents and carers to have access to strategies they can use to help them achieve the aim of reducing the harm that alcohol causes.

Our view is that messages should enable parents to set targets which are attainable for themselves and for their children.


In our view the critical message for young people is that they can choose not to drink or not to get drunk and they should prepare their reasons for that decision. This message can be supported by social norms messages to reinforce their peer groups’ behaviours and aspirations.

Are the practical messages effective enough to put into practice? Are they clear and workable?


We agree that talking with young people about alcohol before they start drinking is important, as is continuing the conversation throughout their adolescence.

Our experience suggests that parents need to be aware of how what they say can be perceived by their children. Using media stories or techniques that distance the conversation from the immediate behaviour of the young person can be critical to ensure the discussion isn’t seen as accusatory.

We would like to see the messages about supporting and congratulating children to be couched more widely than just in resisting peer pressure. We think that the evidence suggests that this should be applied to when they show responsible behaviour more generally.


Evidence that we’ve seen suggests that young people are reluctant to accept messages about substances delivered by government or experts (see here and here). We therefore are unsure whether the message about the CMO will be as effective as having others deliver it.

Who should be communicating these messages to parents and young people?

As we have emphasised a number of times in our response to the consultation there is evidence that government messages are likely to be less effective than if delivered by others.

We believe that a range of messengers is likely to be most effective.

We would like to see children and young people’s media and the broader media look at their role in how young people perceive themselves in relation to alcohol.

What do you think would be the most effective ways of communicating these messages to young people and parents?

As we have said we think that children and young people’s media make an obvious starting point for delivering these messages to children and young people.

We think that as well as high profile sites communications which are more locally produced and focused can be effective.

Messages about alcohol need to be reinforced in school and other educational settings. Ofsted have recently underlined the important and effective role that the youth service can play in helping young people think about risk (see here).

We think that, as the majority of young people’s drinking takes place on Friday and Saturday, the messages should run up to those days. We also know that young people are more likely to drink when they are not in school and it would make sense to target holidays.

Similarly young people who are truanting or excluded from school are at highest risk of misusing alcohol and they and their parents should receive these messages as a priority.


Filed under: alcohol, consultation, Government

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